A shooting early Monday morning outside a nightclub in Fort Myers, Florida, killed at least two teenagers and injured more than a dozen other people, with a 12-year-old reported to be among the wounded, according to authorities.
At least one person was injured in a shooting about half a mile away that police said was related to the gunfire at the club, which said it was hosting a night for teens. All told, officials said 20 people were injured in the violence early Monday in Fort Myers, a city of about 74,000 people in southwest Florida.
What touched off the gunfire was not immediately clear. Police said they were still investigating the shooting to determine a motive, but authorities stressed Monday that they did not believe the bloodshed was linked to terrorism.
“This was not an act of terror, this was not a terrorist act,” Dennis Eads, the interim police chief, said at a news conference Monday. “You can put that out of your mind.”
Police detained three people as part of the investigation into the shooting at Club Blu, a venue about 160 miles southwest of the Orlando nightclub where a gunman killed 49 people and injured dozens of others last month. The specter of that rampage just weeks earlier loomed large over the shooting in Fort Myers, as the Orlando gunman had told police he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
The FBI said it was on the scene and ready to help with the investigation, and a spokeswoman for the bureau echoed the police in saying that there was “no nexus to terrorism at this time.”
“It’s horrible when these things happen,” Gov. Rick Scott, R, said at the same news briefing Monday, noting that he and his family live not far from Fort Myers.
The Orlando shooting prompted a new surge of calls for increased gun control laws, but Scott responded at the time by saying that attack “isn’t about the Second Amendment” and saying that it was instead about terrorism. When asked Monday about those comments in the wake of this latest mass shooting, Scott said: “I support the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment has never shot anybody. Evil does this.”
Eads would not elaborate on the status of the investigation, describing it as a sprawling probe involving the local police, sheriff, state officials and federal authorities. He did say on Monday afternoon that authorities investigating the probe are “still looking for others” as part of the probe.
Scott tweeted, “We are still learning the details about what happened this morning. We will continue to pray for the victims and their families.”
The gunfire in Fort Myers erupted in the parking lot of Club Blu at about 12:30 a.m., police said. It was the latest in a string of shootings that have rocked public places across the country. Those killed were identified as Sean Archilles, 14, and Stef’an Strawder, 18.
“Fort Myers is not immune to crime and unfortunately not spared acts of violence and shootings as other cities across the country have experienced,” Mayor Randall P. Henderson Jr. said in a statement. “We have watched events like this unfold too many times, but when it occurs in our city, it hits directly to our hearts.”
A spokeswoman for Lee Memorial Hospital said that patients ranging in age from 12 to 27 began arriving about an hour after the shooting. The hospital treated 16 people in its trauma center and emergency room, Cheryl Garn, the hospital spokeswoman, wrote in an email.
She said that as of 10:15 a.m., four people remained at the hospital, two in critical condition and the other two in fair condition. Another person injured in the shooting was treated and released from another hospital, she said.
Some people left the club on their own to seek treatment at hospitals, while the rest were transported by Lee County Emergency Medical Services. Eads said that people injured in the shooting had gone to various hospitals across the region.
During the news conference Monday, Scott said that a total of 20 people were injured in Fort Myers, though he did not specify if all of them were wounded outside the club.
When officers arrived outside Club Blu, they found people with injuries that “ranged from minor to life threatening,” a spokesman said in a statement. While the shooting scene was still deemed “very active” in the hours that followed, police said they considered the area safe shortly after 5 a.m.
Police said two other areas were also related to the shooting. One was a house about half a mile north of Club Blu, where a person or people shot at the residence and vehicles, police said. A person there suffered a minor injury, officials said.
Three people were detained Monday morning as part of the investigation, a police spokesman said. Two people were taken into custody for questioning, while a third was detained about six miles northeast of the club. The Fort Myers Police Department and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office were actively canvassing the area for others who may be involved in the shooting, authorities said.
In a posting on Facebook, the club said that parents were picking up their children when the shooting occurred. The message also said the club, which was closing when the shooting occurred, had armed security and other security measures inside and outside the club.
“We are deeply sorry for all involved,” the message said. “We tried to give the teens WHAT WE THOUGHT WAS A SAFE PLACE TO HAVE A GOOD TIME. Ages 12-17.”
The club added: “There was nothing more we could of done [as] you see it was not kids at the party that did this despicable act. Our condolences to all parties involved.
Syreeta Gary told TV station Fox 4 that her daughter was at Club Blu when the first bullets started to fly.
“I just thank God that my daughter is okay, because she could have been shot,” Gary said. “Her dodging bullets and running and dropping between cars, it’s ridiculous that these kids have to go through this. They can’t enjoy themselves because you have other people that have criminal minds and they just want to terrorize things.”
Her daughter’s friend was shot in the leg, Gary told Fox 4.
“She wasn’t as lucky as my daughter,” the mother said.
A witness told Fox 4 reporters that someone in a black SUV shot at random toward homes along Parkway Street. Reporters counted at least 30 shell casings in the area, the TV station reported.
One woman said on Facebook Live that she was talking with friends in the parking lot of the apartment complex across the street from the club when she heard the gunshots begin and saw teenagers running toward them.
She described the bullets as “spraying nonstop.” Her group hid under a car, she said, and at one point, they started running. The woman said she saw someone who had been shot four or five times lying on the ground and watched another person get shot in the back.
The woman cried and repeatedly spoke of the age of the victims.
“Instead of getting school clothes and all that,” she said of the teens’ parents, “they’re making funeral arrangements.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Mark Berman, Katie Mettler